The future of Eli Guttman as national-team coach was all anyone in the Israeli delegation to Portugal could talk about over the weekend. Even before the 1-1 draw between the two countries on Friday night, Guttman met several times with Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon, during which the coach spoke about the successes and failures of the World Cup qualifying campaign and said that he firmly believes that what the national team needs to make the jump forward is continuity.
According to Guttman, who was named coach of the national team in December 2011, that is the key to success in his next campaign – if he is given one. Guttman told Luzon that he is convinced that Israel can qualify for Euro 2016, in part because the finals tournament has been expanded from 16 teams to 24.
While Luzon has not yet promised Guttman a second bite of the cherry and has said that a final decision will only be made after Monday night’s game against Northern Ireland, the IFA chairman has been planning to officially extend Guttman’s term for some time. Luzon has told Guttman that, in addition to the result of the games against Portugal and Northern Ireland, he wants to see the national team restore the faith of the fans and play open, attractive soccer. At the moment, it seems that only a truly disastrous result on Monday – a repeat of the dire draw against Azerbaijan, for example – can change Luzon’s mind.
In the aftermath of Friday’s draw, Guttman told IFA chiefs that he has helped the national team progress in the two years he has been at the helm. “When I took over,” he told close associates, “the national team was in terrible shape. Now it looks much better; I have brought in fresh blood and there’s a pattern to our play now. In my second term, we will keep on going from strength to strength.”
Guttman says that he has fulfilled his own goal for the current campaign – finishing third in the group – but IFA officials are still disappointed with some aspects of his work.
According to IFA insiders, “the national team would have taken third place no matter what style of play Guttman adopted. He played ultra-defensively against weaker teams and we want to see =positive soccer.”
Meanwhile, Israel’s national under-19 team recorded a 9-0 victory over Lichtenstein in a UEFA European Under-19 Championship qualification match in Petah Tikva.
The win was enough to guarantee Israel second place in the group, ahead of Italy on goal difference.
Israel has now qualified for the Elite Stage of the tournament, when the 27 qualifiers from the first round are joined by the host nation. From that tournament, eight teams qualify for next summer’s finals.